The name eland (Taurotragus oryx) is borrowed from the Dutch and means elk. They are the largest African antelope and both sexes have distinctive heavy, spirally twisted horns of up to 1m in length. Eland herds are normally between 6 -12 animals and they can often be found in association with zebras or giraffes, possibly in the hope of warding off lions. One of the interesting characteristics of an eland herd is that it includes a nursery for the calves. When threatened by predators the herd forms a front, with the large males taking the lead positions, whilst the calves and pregnant females are protected behind this fortress.
Three subspecies of common eland have been recognized, though their validity has been in dispute.
- T. o. livingstonii (Sclater, 1864; Livingstone’s eland): also called kaufmanni, niediecki, selousi and triangularis. It is found in the Central Zambezian Miombo woodlands. Livingstone’s eland has a brown pelt with up to twelve stripes.
- T. o. oryx (Pallas, 1766; Cape eland): also called alces, barbatus, canna and oreas. It is found in south and southwest Africa. The fur is tawny, and adults lose their stripes.
- T. o. pattersonianus (Lydekker, 1906; East African eland or Patterson’s eland): also called billingae. It is found in east Africa, hence its common name. Its coat can have up to 12 stripes.
Hunted extensively for their hide and flesh, and at times trained to work in harness, eland populations have greatly diminished over the years. In spite of its heavy physique, eland are remarkably agile and large bulls can easily jump over regular fences.
Common elands live on the open plains of southern Africa and along the foothills of the great southern African plateau. The species extends north into Ethiopia and most arid zones of Sudan, east into western Angola and Namibia, and south to South Africa. However, there is a low density of elands in Africa due to poaching and human settlement.
Elands prefer to live in semi-arid areas that contain many shrub-like bushes, and often inhabit grasslands, woodlands, sub-desert, bush, and mountaintops with altitudes of about 15,000 ft (4600 m). Elands do, however, avoid forests, swamps and deserts. The places inhabited by elands generally contain Acacia, Combretum, Commiphora, Diospyros, Grewia, Rhus and Ziziphus trees and shrubs; some of these also serve as their food.
Elands can be found in many National Parks and reserves today, including Nairobi and Tsavo National Park, Masai Mara NR, Kenya; Serengeti, Ruaha and Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania; Kagera National Park, Rwanda; Nyika National Park, Malawi; Luangwa Valley and Kafue National Park, Zambia; Hwange National Park, Matobo National Park, Tuli Safari Area and Chimanimani Eland Sanctuary, Zimbabwe; Kruger National Park, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Giant’s Castle and Suikerbosrand NR, South Africa.
They live on home ranges that can be 200–400 km2 for females and juveniles and 50 km for males.
Diet: Elands predominately browsers and prefer savannah scrub and leaves. They only eat grass in quantity in the summer, as it is not an important part of their diet. They will drink water when it is available, although they are by no means dependant on it, obtaining their moisture requirements from their food. They have been known to go up to a month without water.
Colouring: Pale fawn in colour and the horns average about 65cm long. The male has a distinctive tuft of hair on his head and stouter horns than the female.
Breeding: A single calf is born to a mother after a gestation period of approximately 9 months. Calves can run with the herd a few hours after birth.
Size: They stand nearly 2m high at the shoulder, and a fully grown male may weigh over 700 kg. Females are smaller at 1.5m and weigh up to 460kg.
Distribution of the common eland over the savannas and plains in eastern and southern Africa.